The last time the Hawks were really good, they had a roster that was built by Danny Ferry. It follows that now that the Hawks aren’t really good (again) and are searching for a new general manager — as well as a starting center who’s not out speeding after 2 a.m. the night before playoff games — some are suggesting they hire their old general manager.
Ferry’s name has been dropped by several fans in emails to me and on social media over the past few months, increasingly so in recent weeks. I’m also going to assume he has been mentioned in the bottomless pit of, “Hey, what about this!” of mindless chatter on sports talk radio (I’m more of a jazz-and-blues guy in my car so I can’t confirm).
Two thoughts on the Ferry-to-the-Hawks talk:
1) It’s not surprising.
2) It’s not happening.
In many ways, Ferry checks all the boxes. He is a proven NBA general manager who has cachet in Atlanta and can work with coach Mike Budenholzer, which otherwise may be a prickly situation for the Hawks’ next general manager since Budenholzer was recently stripped of his personnel power (Excuse me: voluntarily stepped down. Sometimes I forget to read the press release.)
Here’s the problem: Regardless of where you stood a few years ago on the Ferry should-he/shouldn’t-he keep his job debate following the Luol Deng scouting report kerfuffle, there is zero debate that it was a polarizing issue. Zero.
That incident, in combination with the numbskull Bruce Levenson racially charged inner-office email, prompted the organization to hire a chief diversity officer and expand its outreach into the African American community. For Hawks’ ownership, led by Tony Ressler, to now re-hire Ferry after concluding three years ago he was too toxic to be kept and was viewed by many (rightly or wrongly) as having done or said something racist creates an issue.
It’s a potential grease fire for an organization that doesn’t need another grease fire.
I’m sure the Hawks could enlist a top-notch public-relations firm and figure out a delicate way to finesse Ferry’s re-entry. (He actually still lives in Atlanta, even though he’s a special adviser with the New Orleans Pelicans.) They could paint a picture of a wiser Ferry and an enlightened organization. But in the end, you’re still going to have a segment of the fan base that would scream this is wrong, and maybe worse.
Granted, sports teams are never going to please everybody with their front-office hires. But this is a particularly sensitive area. It’s also avoidable. Ferry may or may not be the best choice as Hawks general manager. But he’s certainly not the only choice. No other option comes with his perceived baggage.
Ferry wants to be a general manager again. I’m guessing he will get that chance. He could end up getting the New Orleans job, where Dell Demps’ future appears wobbly.
Here’s something else to consider: Would Ferry even want the Hawks’ job? In some ways, he probably feels an attachment to the job. But he also knows the 60-win season of two years ago was a bit of an aberration for the roster he put together and that three key players on that teams — Al Horford, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll — all had expiring contracts in the near future. We really don’t know how Ferry would’ve succeeded in the potential transition of those teams. First-round picks like John Jenkins, Adreian Payne and Lucas Nogueira (acquired in draft trade) didn’t exactly pan out. (Ferry did, however, draft Dennis Schroder.)
But if Ferry returned to Atlanta, he would be viewed by some as a savior expected to immediately fix the Hawks (which won’t be easy). Truth is, there would be less immediate pressure 0n him if he went somewhere else.
As for where Ressler will turn, not even he knows. Not only is he not close to a decision, it’s believed the organization isn’t even certain on what prototype they’re looking for. Somebody with GM experience? A young assistant on another team. A former team builder with a title but baggage?
Among the reported candidates (whether real or orchestrated by agents to pump their clients): Joe Dumars, who was an executive of the year, won a championship and went to two finals and at least the conference finals six consecutive years in Detroit. But Dumars has been out of work for a while because of the way his tenure with the Pistons finished: five consecutive years out of the playoffs.
There’s also Cleveland general manager David Griffin, whose contract will be expiring after the playoffs. But he’s also a potential candidate in Orlando and he might just be looking for contract leverage. Also, he’s not bringing LeBron James with him. There’s Oklahoma City assistant GM Troy Weaver, who’s often mentioned in GM openings, and somebody the other day threw out former Philly executive Sam Hinkie, who perfected the art of tanking.
None are perfect choices. There’s seldom a perfect choice. But don’t expect it to be the former choice.